It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .
In his Tuesday night speech on Syria, President Obama “made his most forceful case yet” on the issue with a speech which lowered global tensions, calming economic fears and markets. Or the president tried to have it both ways, arguing both for military force and for diplomacy. Or Mr. Obama was indecisive, seeking to reason with the country rather than lead it. Or he “turned to once-reviled Russia for a way out of the Syria crisis” while “a weak-kneed Congress clung to his coattails.” Or it was “one of the strangest speeches a president has given in my lifetime.”
Meanwhile, Kmart is airing the earliest Christmas ad in history. It aired several times Monday, the first day of school for many. It appeals to consumers: “Don’t let the holidays sneak up on you. Shop early with Kmart free layaway.” Is this a helpful way for shoppers to get control of their holiday spending, spacing out their purchases and financial obligations? Or it is the latest example of crass commercialism, as marketers push the real meaning of Christmas further to our cultural sidelines?
Miley Cyrus has been much in the news lately, mostly for reasons we’ll not discuss this morning. But this report may surprise you: a clinical psychologist claims that listening to her music can make you smarter. Songs with 50 to 80 beats per minute apparently help the brain to learn and remember new facts more easily. So, is her music an example of cultural progress? Or it is proof that we are “slouching towards Gomorrah,” as Judge Robert Bork warned nearly 20 years ago?
“Truth is perception,” we’re often told. Is there a correlation between your feelings about President Obama last month and your support for his policies on Syria today? If you equate materialism with significance, you’re probably not so disturbed by Kmart’s marketing ploy. If you believe in “art for art’s sake,” there’s not much Miley Cyrus can do to alarm you.
Last week I finished reading Judges, a book which can be summarized by its final verse: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Is there a King in our culture? Or do we do what is right in our own eyes? How is that working for us? My doctoral dissertation explored the work of British scholar J. V. L. Casserley, who warned that God’s truths are like an anvil. We do not break them—we break ourselves on them.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “It’s God that’s worrying me. That’s the only thing that’s worrying me. What if He doesn’t exist? . . . Then, if He doesn’t exist, man is the king of the earth, of the universe. Magnificent! Only how is he going to be good without God? That’s the question.”